Our spiritual saviours Iyanla and Oprah said it best: guilt is a wasted emotion. And let’s face it, it really is a huge waste of time and energy. Feeling guilty for taking what we need, or not being able to give someone else what they need, does nothing except torture us. And it wears us down, too: our self-confidence and ability to be fully present suffers when we’re preoccupied with guilt, and we’re not able to fully learn the lessons our experiences have in store for us. The way I see it, indulging in guilt is a habit, and all self-destructive habits must be broken if we want to live happily in our own skin. Here are some things to consider if you want to guilt-proof your life.
Get to know your guilt — don’t fear it, or label it as bad. Not all guilt is created equal, so pay some loving attention to yours when it comes up. Guilt can be your moral compass pointing you to a need to make amends when you’ve done something misaligned with your values. It can also be a response to a conflict of your needs and someone else’s needs. What is your guilt telling you? That something you did was wrong? Or that you are wrong? Stay objective in the face of your guilt. Receive the message it has for you and don’t torture yourself with it.
Get on shame-spiral red alert. When guilt strikes, be a keen enforcer of your thoughts so they don’t take you head-first down a shame-spiral. That is a place of utter desolation and lack of productivity. Keep yourself distanced enough from your thoughts around the situation before they turn into an emotion, and cloud your perspective. When on shame-spiral red alert, the public security rule translates: if you see something, say something. To a good friend. Bring guilt to light, to stay out of the dark.
Do what you can to clean up your side of the street and keep it clean. If you did something wrong, apologize. Help make things right. Plant seeds of good karma. Whatever it is you need to do to send your love to the situation, do it, move on, forgive it all. If you haven’t done anything wrong or can’t tell, journal or talk your way to clarity. Don’t let guilt add pressure to the situation. Find out what you need to release, and ask yourself how you can release it. Don’t bury guilt, transform it.
Commit to living in alignment with your values. How can you communicate and act in a way that you can stand behind, no matter what? Affirm your values as part of your daily routine, whether it’s by meditating on them, saying affirmations, or writing out your top 5 and sticking them on a post-it on your fridge where you can see them everyday. A value is something, a principle or quality, that’s intrinsically valuable or desirable to you. (Inner harmony, creativity, loyalty, personal development…) If you don’t know yours, try some on for size. Personal values are like the guiding lights in your direction.
Refuse to be shrunken by guilt. Know that staying preoccupied with guilt impairs you from being able to learn from your experiences and grow. Instead of sinking your shoulders and feeling awful about yourself and your decision when it hits, respond to it with love — for yourself and for the situation.